Opioid Epidemic, Part II

09-03-2023Pastor's LetterFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

We are all used to having numbers and statistics thrown at us in order to describe the magnitude of an issue or a problem. But too often, those numbers are just an abstraction, and we miss the real human cost, the pain and suffering behind the stats. Years ago, I visited Cambodia and though I didn’t want to see them, it’s unavoidable not to notice the “Killing Fields”. You see tens of thousands of bones and lifeless skulls in the Fields. It is very sobering. That the Khmer Rouge killed millions of their fellow countryman is not an abstraction when you see the Killing Fields but a painful eye-opening moment to the reality of evil.

The same is true for the current Opioid Epidemic. One hundred thousand overdoses deaths in a year is hard to wrap your head around until you realize that the Epidemic affects just about everyone. Families are ripped apart; communities are hit hard with crime and resources depleted.

In one of the Parishes where I was assigned (in the last century), some of the ladies who came to daily Mass told me that while at Mass their purses where robbed. So, one morning I went up to the Choir Loft while another priest was offering the Mass and what I saw was disturbing. One of the ladies who came to daily Mass, while the others went to Communion went through their handbags and stole their cash. After Mass, I confronted her, and she broke down in sobs. Her adult son, who was addicted to OxyContin, was extorting her for money and threating her with violence if she did not give him what he demanded. She went through her small savings and was eventually reduce to a petty thief.

We did finally act and went after the manufacturer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, who recklessly marketed the drug as “safe”, knowing it was highly addictive. As of today, the Company is in bankruptcy. Then additional legal settlements have been reached with both manufacturers and distributers of other Opioids including: Teva, Allergan, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Janssen, Cardinal, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen. The total damages these companies will pay is 50 billion dollars, along with 6 billion from Perdue. This is the biggest settlement since Big Tobacco. (How it is being distributed is subject for another interesting letter of mine.) These actions have dried up the overprescribing of opioids.

And just when you thought it was safe… The law of supply and demand still rules. In the void of prescribed Opioids, the Mexican Drug Cartels have stepped up to flood our country with a synthetic opioid called Fentanyl. (Ironically, the flow of heroin has slowed greatly since the Taliban took back Afghanistan, as they forbid the growing of poppies which produce the opium used for heroin.

Under US rule, Afghanistan was one of the largest if not largest producers of heroin.) So now we have Opioid Epidemic Redux. Just recently, in our Golf Utopia, another family faced a similar situation as the one above. Their adult child had made their lives miserable and chaotic as only a drug addict can. After trying to help in many ways they finally had to put up a firm boundary and tell him he could no longer come to their home. But he did. To prevent him from harming them, one of the parents used a firearm. How tragic for a parent to have to do something like that to one of their offspring. I am sure they did not want to take that action, but they had run out of options. Please pray for their healing.

When you hear stories like these the 100,000+ overdose deaths last year is no longer so abstract. Nor is it limited to the person who took the drug. It is real for all of us.

An important step in treating addiction is to reduce or eliminate the supply of the drug. For an alcoholic, that means getting rid of the supply of alcohol in their home or wherever they stash it. For the Opioid addict it means telling every medical provider you visit that you cannot safely take such drugs. However, in this Phase II of the Opioid Epidemic, cutting off the supply of Fentanyl cannot be done with lawsuits.

As faithful citizens we need to insist our government find ways to stop the supply of drugs coming into our country as a first step in stopping this Epidemic. Once the supply is dried up, we can better offer prevention and treatment to addicts and the families who suffer.

Recovery from addiction is possible. Let’s work and pray for the day when rather than 100,000 overdose deaths being the leading statistic, 100,000 recovered individuals and families are.


Fr. John B.